Harvard has produced a slew of famous and accomplished athletes. The small school size coupled with the fact that it has the most Division I programs of any school in the nation, with over 40, means that student-athletes comprise about 20 percent of Harvard’s current student body. Harvard has a long history of competing with some of the best athletics programs in the country, and its teams have won more than 150 national titles. However, among Crimson squads, the men’s lacrosse team is unique because it is mostly led by first-years.
Head coach Gerry Byrne took over the helm of the men’s lacrosse team in 2019, and has helped Harvard draw in some high-level recruits. First-year attacker Sam King, a 2022 All-Ivy Honorable Mention, is one of those recruits. King was ranked as the 21st overall recruit in the nation by Inside Lacrosse during his recruiting process, and he is one of just many highly-regarded players that Byrne has been able to bring into Harvard’s ranks. In the 2021 recruiting class (first-years on the 2022 team), Byrne pulled five top-100 players.
King hails from Baltimore, M.D., an area known for producing elite lacrosse talent. The Gilman School graduate was drawn onto the circuit by his older siblings, two sisters and a brother, who all played at the Division III level. His brother played at Middlebury and his sisters played at Colorado College and Sewanee. Although his parents didn’t play growing up, and his dad had actually never heard of the sport until moving to the East Coast, King got started from a young age, playing for both youth and club teams.
A three-year varsity letter winner (four-year varsity hockey player as well), captain of the squad his senior year, Under Armour All-American his senior year, All-MIAA selection in 2019, and the most valuable player for Gilman in 2019, King has a long resume of accolades that confirm his excellence on the field. He developed his skills both in youth leagues and as a member of Looney’s club team, a travel team based out of Baltimore.
His passion for the sport earned him an initial commitment to Denver University. King emphasizes that his recruiting process was non-traditional in that he actually switched his verbal commitment during his junior year.
“After my spring season, and the summer, I started looking at some other places, one of them being Harvard,” King explained. “Coach Byrne and all he’s doing, as well as Harvard as a university, made the decision kind of a no-brainer.”
As a recruited athlete, King has to balance his time on the field with his time in the classroom. So far, due to his commitment to a rigid schedule, he has found success both academically and athletically. His consistency is inspired by the fifty other guys on the team who also manage busy schedules, as well as his professors.
On the field, King has proven to be a phenomenal first-year starter. He broke into the lineup, rounding out the attacking trio of junior Hayden Cheek and senior Austin Madronic. King finished the season with 46 points – 25 goals and 21 assists – as well as 16 ground balls and seven forced turnovers. His explosiveness behind the cage, ability to scan the field, and quarterback from behind instantly garnered media coverage and often drew him the toughest matchup.
“Being behind the goal, you can see everything that’s happening in front of the goal with the middies and the other two attackmen. So, I think that being the X attackman comes with having to understand what we are doing on offense, and seeing what the right play is to make at the right time,” he stated.
Off the field King has developed his bond with his teammates through his band Steep Grade, which he started with senior goalie Kyle Mullin.
“We started it this fall, in November. We were asked to play at a small little event here, and so we just one day started practicing with each other, and had a ton of fun playing, and then we kind of gelled really well,” he explained. “We became really good friends first and foremost, and then started playing a lot of music and building that relationship. We'll be doing that a lot this summer. I’m going to be living in Philadelphia, so hopefully we’ll be able to play a lot.”
Participating in extracurriculars with his teammates has allowed King to form bonds that translate into peak performances on the field. Even though Mullin leads the defense and King is an offensive player, the two connected well on the clear throughout the season when Mullin would look to override an aggressive press by flinging a long-ball downfield to King, who, in their set play, would stretch the field and get open at the opposite endline.
Their band also provided an outlet for the team to come together and support the duo, which created bonding experiences for the guys to cheer them on and thus fostered more cohesion in their sets.
King has also been very involved in charity work throughout his early career, working as a tutor for Gilman’s Writing Center in high school, a passion that he will continue to develop this summer. King’s main priority in Philadelphia is to work at a school called Building 21, which focuses on providing equitable education for students under the poverty line. King has always been inspired by his teachers and coaches, and so wanted to work and help youth over the summer. In addition, he will also be working with the Harlem Lacrosse program in Philly, hoping to grow the game and nurture untapped talent in underdeveloped communities.
His ability to lead in the classroom and to inspire other students has translated into his successes on the field. He stood out in the team’s comeback performance against Princeton, in which he scored five points: three goals and two assists. He totaled nine points, six goals and three assists, against Dartmouth, and had a career-high five assists against Fairfield. He quarterbacked the offense through all of these contests, and ran point on many of the team’s sets.
King took a semester off to preserve his athletic eligibility when the Ivy League announced that it would not allow athletes to compete in the 2021 lacrosse season. During his leave, King lived in Georgia for about two months before working on an oyster farm for the rest of his semester.
“My grandparents live down in Chestertown, so I’ve always loved the culture of the Chesapeake Bay, fishing and hunting and stuff like that. So I emailed this oyster company, joined them, and learned a ton about oyster farming and the Chesapeake Bay,” he explained.
On and off the field, King is a vital part of a young Harvard squad that, after reaching the first round of the NCAA Tournament this past weekend, should have a bright future. Of the 49 guys on the team, only six are graduating, and the team is expecting about ten new recruits to join in the fall. This means that the majority of the starting talent will continue to be developed by Coach Byrne in the coming seasons. The leadership of the graduating senior class has helped pave the way for what King hopes will be more runs to the collegiate tournament in the years to come.
“All of the older guys, Austin, Hayden on attack, have been an amazing part of it all,” he said. “They’re super helpful and are great leaders and upperclassmen.”